Retrostyle: A Day in the Forties

Cabin Fever: Michael Savoia in his Catskills bungalow.Photo: Danielle Levitt

The Cat’s Meow

Michael Savoia has been wearing the same look since the early seventies; he took home all his high school’s best-dressed awards in his father’s 1949 black Cadillac. Like his grandfather, Savoia (who never uses his first name) is a custom tailor, although his customers are a bit more well known: the wedding party of Dominic “Uncle Junior” Chianese, the cast of Swing. “When I was young, I was infatuated with gangsters and George Raft—they had such pizzazz,” says Savoia, who arrives at fittings in a 1949 Olds Rocket 88 driven by a chauffeur named Charles. “Now I appreciate the completeness of forties design, from interiors to furniture, cars, and clothing.” Even his extensive tattoos are modeled after those of the famed tattoo artist Sailor Jerry, whose scrolling designs defined forties flash.

Savoia’s business drives his lifestyle. He makes the most of his clothes and often barters services for goods. Tailoring also funds acquisitions like his aviator suits at What Comes Around Goes Around, or the red Victor pool table, which appeared in The Hustler, from Blatt Billiards.

Last year, Savoia bought a 1949 log estate in the Catskills, which he renovated, creating a décor that might be described as macho Art Deco. A boar’s-head gun rack from Billy’s Antiques ($250) holds vintage Red Rider BB guns bought for $15 to $20 each from an antiques shop in Roscoe, New York.

There’s no such thing as “out of character” for Savoia. He entertains in a handmade smoking jacket, while sipping Sinatra’s favorite—Jack, straight up, with a champagne chaser—at the fully stocked, black-laminate cocktail bar from Las Venus ($400). When he goes out, it’s for Chinese at Wo Hop or cocktails at the speakeasy-esque lounge Milk & Honey. He takes a lot of ribbing from people who, he says, have no imagination. “It’s hard when I’m on a date, and some jerk is like, ‘Why do you wear your pants so high?’ ”

Photo: Davies + Starr

The last years of the Depression cast a pall, but the city pulled together during the Second World War. And when it was over, New York emerged—finally!—as the most exciting city in the world. Start the day by swiping your lips with Red Velvet from the forties-inspired line Bésame, dabbing your nose with loose cashmere powder ($18 for the lipstick, $25 for the powder, at Henri Bendel; 212-247-1100), and slipping on your Cuban-heel pumps ($278 at What Comes Around Goes Around; 212-343-9303).

Photo: Courtesy of Gotta Have It

Dash over to your friend’s rent-controlled Midtown West apartment (rent control was adopted as a temporary measure in 1943) and present him with housewarming gifts: a bomber jacket ($598 at What Comes Around Goes Around), Dax Wave and Groom pomade ($3 at Bobby’s II Department Store; 718-856-7600), and an original wire-service photograph of Jackie Robinson leaving Ebbets Field after his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 ($2,500 at Gotta Have It; 212-750-7900).

Photo: Courtesy of Blatt Billiards

Shoot some stick on a “New Yorker” Art Deco pool table ($32,500 at Blatt Billiards; 800-252-8855), and lust after the Murano chandeliers (price upon request at Antiqueria Tribeca; 212-227-7500) and sexy Paul Dupré-Lafon bookcases lined with red Hermès leather ($250,000 for both at Gallery BAC; 212-431-6151).

Head out for a whirlwind World’s Fair tour: first to the Queens Museum of Art,the one remaining building constructed for the 1939–1940 event (718-592-9700), then back to Manhattan to peruse the Old York Library’s extensive collection of World’s Fair programs, promotional memorabilia, and postcards (by appointment only; 212-817-7241).

Photo: Age Fotostock/Superstock

Stop for a cup of joe, but remember not to add too much sugar—it’s wartime and rationing is in effect. Practice home economy by knitting some socks at Knit New York ($75 per class including supplies; 212-387-0707), then show your solidarity with something permanent:Choose from pinup girls, anchors, or a heart with MOM in the manner of famed Bowery tattoo artist Charlie Wagner at the hard-core Deco environs of Fun City Tattoo ($100 minimum; 212-353-8282). Cap off the day in Harlem with jazz and bubbly at the thrillingly refurbished birthplace of bebop, Minton’s Playhouse ($10 cover; 212-864-8346).

War Posters

Photo: David Pollack/Corbis

Since 9/11, and especially since the war in Iraq, the market for World War II–era war posters has been heating up. La Belle Epoque Vintage Posters gallery (212-362-1770), which has one of the largest collections in the city, sold an iconic print of Uncle Sam saying “I Want You,” with a pointed finger, for $9,000 three years ago. But there are plenty of less familiar but arguably more visually intriguing pieces of government propaganda to be had for $300 to $500, at least for now.

Retrostyle: A Day in the Forties